BookScapes by Helen McIver

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Seraphina (2012)
This is a marvelous debut YA science fiction novel by Rachel Hartman which has received numerous awards including:
Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel
Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada)
Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK)
Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (UK)

If you thought there was nothing new to say about dragons, here is a beautiful intricately crafted new kingdom, Goredd, where humans and dragons have tentatively, coexisted for nearly 4 decades. Dragons attend court in human shape as ambassadors, and are noted for their rational, mathematical minds which also suits universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, tensions increase when a member of the royal family is murdered in suspiciously draconian fashion.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted court musician, she is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queens Guard, the perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they uncover a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina must protect her own secret, the reason for her musical gift. For Phina is half dragon and half human and totally unforgettable.

This heroine’s struggle, coming of age, is one readers will remember long after they’ve closed the book. The original world (new dragonlore), fun, fascinating and complex characters also demand the sequel to be written soon! I was captivated by the story, entranced by the beautiful, evocative writing. It was a pleasure to reread sections – a delight to return to highlighted passages (thank you kindle for nondestructive highlighting!)

There is a wonderul glossary of terms and a cast of characters (examples:)
Binou – breton bagpipes
Aurochs – extinct European cattle wild
Quine – 4 sheets of parchment (medieval paper)
Saarantrai – Dragons in human form
The main character is Seraphina Dombagh, often called Phina
Claude is her father
Orma is mentor and uncle and dragon
Prince Lucian Kiggs – is Princess Laurel’s bastard, and fiance to Princess Glisselda
Kiggs is also Captain of the Queen’s Guards
Viridius is the court composer

Quotes:
Most of the quotes are from the first half of the book, the pages flew and I was so absorbed in the story I didn’t interrupt it with anything. Magic quickly overtakes the reader.
Dragons have no souls and must wear a bell in human form unless they are scholars. They have silver blood, no beards, a peculiar smell not normally detected by humans. They have sulphurous breath.

The Music…was the answer to a question I had never asked, the way to fill the dread emptiness into which I had been born……My love of music eventually lured me from the safety of my father’s house, propelling me into the city and the royal court…I did not understand that I carried loneliness before me on a plate, and that music would be the light, illuminating me from behind.

Her Uncle Orma had…the scholar’s exemption from the bell, so few people ever realised he was a dragon. He had his quirks certainly: he never laughed; he had little comprehension of fashion, manners, or art; he had a taste for difficult mathematics and fabrics that didn’t itch.

It was good to see a dragon’s teeth. A dragon with his mouth closed was far more likely to be working up a flame. That seemed completely obvious…..Under the white winter sky the dragons looked rusty, a disappointing color for so fabled a species, but I soon realised their shades were subtle. The right slant of sunlight brought out an irridescent sheen in their scales; they shimmered with rich underhues, from purple to gold.

The borderlands of madness used to have much sterner signage around them than they do now.

We were friends; he just didn’t know it yet. ….He had a nose like a compass needle; it pointed with purpose.

Viridius planned to rehearse us within an inch of our lives.

I’d had more than my share of beautiful today. Tomorrow I’d give some back, restore and replenish the world.
4.5 stars
Read as an ebook from Rochester Public Library

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BookScapes by Helen McIver

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The Midwife’s Tale  by Samuel Thomas

The midwife in this tale is Lady Bridget Hodgson, and her newly acquired servant and apprentice Martha. Lady Bridget is a 30 year old twice widowed woman, whose real sorrow is the loss of her 2 children. She lives in York, and best of all is based on a real character. These were streets I know well, and the pull back in time was intense: the setting perfectly depicted the harrowing days of a siege (by the Scots, described here as barbarians). This story has an intriguing list of characters, all well developed, with distinct differences and functions. Many classes of people are represented from city officials, soldiers, jailers, working women, wives, tailors, to street urchins, in churches, government, bars, apothecaries etc.

Martha is also a fascinating character, useful to the household, but with unusual set of skills, not so much house cleaning as house breaking. She has a few secrets of her own.

This is primarily a book about women, but there is an interesting assortment of men:

nephew (Mathew) with a club foot, tormented individual but helpful

brother-in-law (Edward), dominating, political, ultimately trustworthy

Italian (Baca) mysterious bordering on violence and deadly

husbands, sinful men of god, ‘the godly’

dwarf jailer – humour in odd places, goodness

Lord mayor – powerful, secretive, ruthless chess player

rebels and kingsmen in bombardments (to be avoided!)

siege which is destroying innocent townspeople

This is not a fast paced thriller. It is filled with death and the grim reality of the struggle for life, such that you wonder how we as humanity made it out of the 17th century. There is scathing social and religious commentary, interesting portrayal of the conniving and desperate lives of most women, the corrupt power of local politics all the while presenting everyday life. If you think you’d like time travel, read this for the gritty, grimy gruesome detail that will make you revel in central heating and plumbing. My nose wrinkles just thinking of her descriptive reeking passages. The contrast with her life (with linens, extra clothing, food) to the poor and unfortunate is uncomfortable at best. The writing is evocative – reel from the scents (stinking smells really), the sounds (cannons, horse screams, rain) but also the torment and sorrow of loss of children, babies, diseases, and the precariousness of life. There are full descriptions of several types of births but also the customs and camaraderie of the gossips (those women who helped with birthing)

But the characters were intriguing and interesting and every page turned effortlessly. I so enjoyed this book that I seriously hope that it is the beginning of a series. That Lady Bridget will continue to deliver babies and solve mysteries satisfactory, especially with Martha now taken on as deputy (midwife in training).

Quotes

“I was struck once again by the artist’s inability to portray him as any less pathetic than he had been in life. In truth it was a peculiar kind of masterpiece.”

“Phineas (her second husband) had taught me the hard lesson that contentment in marriage could not be taken for granted. I preferred the certainty of my work to the unknown of married life.”

‘I never forget a mother, the fathers were a different matter.”

“It is said that in his youth Edward ordered his sleeves cut an inch longer than was fashionable in order to hide the pommel of his dagger. This seemed right to me.”

“Edward was a voracious reader, and the walls of the room were covered with bookshelves containing works on every subject imaginable. There were books in English and Latin, of course, but also French and what looked like Greek. Massive folios of Shakespeare’s plays sat comfortably next to cheap pamphlets detailing a monstrous birth in Sussex….his desk was a riot of correspondence and commonplace books in which he scrawled notes…despite all this the room exuded not chaos but a sort of controlled energy.”

4.5 stars

read as an ARC

If you like Ariana Franklin, CJ Ransom and Vanora Bennett this is a book for you.

Bookscapes by Helen McIver

A Good Book and Chocolate – Flowers Optional
Romantic Authors

bookpile2Following the library’s (and Facebook’s) alphabetic lists of either books or authors, here is a list of authors that write romance fiction.  I, personally, never knew that Jane Austen or Garrison Keillor was considered a romance writer (searching Kindle selections). These are some of the authors I have enjoyed reading, especially classics and Regency or historical novels.

To quote Robertson Davies, “It is dangerous to condemn stories as junk which satisfy the deep hunger of millions of people. These books are not literary art, but a great deal of what is acclaimed as literary art in our time offers no comfort or fulfillment to anybody.” (From For Your Eyes Alone; the Letters of Robertson Davies, ed. Judith Skelton Grant, Viking Press)
A
Jane Austen, Jennifer Ashley, *Laurie Anderson

B
Mary Balogh, *Angela Benson

C
Gail Carriger, *Jennifer Crusie, Mary Chase Comstock

D
Christina Dodd

E
Suzanne Enoch

F
Jane Feather

G
*Diana Gabaldon, *Roberta Gellis

H
*Madeline Hunter, *Deborah Harkness

I
Iris Johansson

J
*Eliosa James

K
Lisa Kleypas, Susanna Kearsley, Lynn Kurland

L
Stephanie Laurens

M
Karen Marie Moning, *Lucy Muir

N
Brenda Novak

O
Constance O’Day Flannery

P
Mary Jo Putney, *Elizabeth Peters, * Nina Coombs PyKare,

Q
Julia Quinn, Amanda Quick

R
Karen Rose, Karen Ranney, Deanna Raybourn, *Pamela Regis

S
*Christina Skye

T
Adriana Trigiani

U-V
Joan Vincent

W
Susan Wiggs, Lauren Willig, Edith Wharton, Kathleen Woodiwiss

X-Y
*Jane Yardley, Rebecca York

Z
Mia Zachary
* Denotes authors who have a PhD in various subjects and take the romance novel to a new level.

Book of the Moment
Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea

I read Shadowy Horses, Mariana and The Rose Garden, quite quickly in succession, charmed by the writing and locations. Historical Scotland, medieval England, magic as well as reminding me greatly of reading Mary Stewart as a teenager. Then I discovered Mary Stewart was one of Kearsley’s favorite authors growing up, and I couldn’t wait to read more. Her first novel Mariana won the Catherine Cookson literary prize, all of her books have become bestsellers. She also writes classic thrillers under the name Emma Cole.

The Winter Sea is her most recent book, and rumor has it her next one is a sequel (you have time to read this one before Firebird is released in June). Prepare to be enthralled: this is a beautiful and engaging work of historical fiction, with a dash of romance, tragedy, mystery in an engrossing story. She has done her research, both in richly detailed history but also in the present day settings – interesting characters, a moody sea, enchanting Scottish village and local customs.

Summary: Carrie McClelland moves to Scotland to continue to research her next book on a relatively unknown Jacobite rebellion of 1708. She is drawn to Slains Castle, rents a remote cottage and begins to dream of her characters, creating a parallel story.

If you like Barbara Erskine (Lady of Hay), Diana Gabaldon and Mary Stewart, read on.